Park Girls' Win City's 1st WIAA Title

BY GERY WOELFEL Journal Times March 16, 1997

MADISON - Don't call them dreamers anymore.

From now on, whenever you refer to the Park High School girls' basketball team, call them champions.


Because that's what the Panthers are. Playing before a boisterous University of Wisconsin Field House crowd and a state-wide television audience, the Panthers achieved that distinction Saturday night.

The Panthers, playing almost a near-perfect game, soundly defeated Milwaukee Washington 59-31 in the WIAA Division 1 championship game.

"I'm going to be pinching myself for a good two hours," said Park coach Jim Kerkvliet, almost overcome by the moment. "It's awesome, just awesome."

LaTonya Sims (22) of the Park High School girl's basketball team grabs a rebound above teamate Julie Christensen and Markesha Morris and Jerica Watson of Milwaukee Washington during the WIAA Division 1 state championship game Saturday night in the UW Field House. Park won 59-31 for the city's first WIAA girls state title.
Yes it was. It was also the first girls' state basketball title for a Racine public school since the inception of the state tournament in 1976.

And it was just the second state basketball championship ever for a Racine public school. The only other Racine team to lay claim to a state title was the 1943 Park boys.

Like her coach, Park senior star LaTonya Sims had trouble containing her emotions. Mobbed by Park fans after the game, Sims said: "I don't think it's hit me yet. I haven't cried, but I'm close to doing it."

The emotion Sims showed reflected the emotions the Panthers had the entire night, beginning in the locker room before they even hit the floor.

"In the locker room we were so pumped up," said sophomore point guard Julie Christensen. "This is the greatest feeling ... to win a state championship."

As they have so many times this season, the Panthers (25-1) used some suffocating defense and a patient offense. The Panthers did both at peak efficiency in the second quarter.

After Milwaukee Washington (22-4) took a 15-11 lead at the end of the first quarter, and appeared poised for an unprecedented fourth straight title, Park dominated. And that might be an understatement.

Amy Zelinger, a junior forward, was the catalyst to Park's second-quarter surge. Zelinger scored from the right side to pull Park within 15-13. Then senior forward Tricia Anderson followed with back-to-back baskets, putting the Panthers in front at 17-15. They never looked back.

By halftime, Park led 24-15. Incredibly, the Panthers outscored the Purgolders 13-0 in the period.

"We were just fortunate there, we were blessed there in the second quarter," said Kerkvliet, whose team finished with an amazing 22-game winning streak. "We got all the breaks."

That, they did. But Park made most of them, too. They did the whole game, a game that saw each starting Panther make a significant contribution. Consider what each of the "Fantastic Five" did in this game, the biggest game of their careers:

* LaTonya Sims: The Panthers' All-American center was simply outstanding. She scored 26 points in the game, giving her 78 for the three-game tournament. That's the third-most points ever by a Division 1 player.

"I knew I had to come out with a bang," said Sims, who was also a starter on Park teams that lost to Washington in the 1994 and 1995 state tournaments. "This was it. This was my last high school game. I wanted to make it a good one."

* Anderson: Besides getting Park off to a fast start in the second quarter, the senior forward played aggressive defense, grabbed three rebounds and made heads-up court decisions.

"All I ever wanted for four years was a banner to put in the (Park) Fieldhouse," Anderson said. "Now we got it, thanks to my teammates."

* Zelinger: A junior forward, Zelinger had a terrific all-around game, perhaps her best ever. She had nine points in the first half, almost double her average. She finished with nine points, four rebounds and five steals.

"We wanted this game more than anything in the world," Zelinger said. "I'm speechless."

* Christensen: Nobody would have guessed this point guard was just a sophomore by the way she calmly directed the offense. All game long the Panthers executed their offense to near perfection and Christensen was a major reason they did.

"I think being the point guard I had to keep everybody under control," Christensen said. "Not that we started firing up 3s or doing something we shouldn't."

* Krisey Sanders: Given the toughest defensive assignment of the game, guarding Washington standout Myesha Bledsoe, Sanders responded brilliantly.

Bledsoe scored 24 points in the Purgolders' semifinal victory against Sun Prairie Friday night, and had seven in the first period against Park.

But Sanders completely blanketed her thereafter and held her scoreless in the critical second period.

"We knew they had a really good team and we keyed on Bledsoe and (Jerica) Watson," Sanders said. "We had to shut them down and we pretty much shut them down."

Because they did, and because of their total commitment to playing as a team, the Panthers are now champions. STATE CHAMPIONS!

Park girls win state title | Park girls' fans champions, too